A M M A . A S A N T E
Amma Asante (MBE) is a multi-award winning screenwriter, director and former child actress. She is a Black British female film director of Ghanaian descent, with feature length motion pictures and more than 17 international awards under her belt.
Amma’s career really began with her first role as student Cheryl Webb in 1980s sitcom, Grange Hill. From there, she appeared in cameo roles in Channel 4’s – Desmond’s and BBC1’s – Birds of a Feather. Although her initial roles in acting predicted a high-flying career, this was not to be. As a teenager, Amma had suddenly run out of opportunities to work as an actress. After a failed attempt to pursue a career as a secretary, the ever resilient former actress turned her hand to screenwriting.
Considering the incredible feats she has achieved with her talent, it is ironic that her dad had to push her to attend performance school because she was a shy child. At the Barbara Speake stage school in London where she attended, she gained the skills and confidence to build a career that would eventually lead her to international acclaim.
Setting the Stage
The path she took to directing her first feature length film was unconventional to say the least. In 2004, she made her directorial debut with A Way of Life (2004). The film, set in a decrepit industrial town in Wales, tells the story of a group of white teenagers who persecute and eventually murder their Muslim neighbour. On finishing the script, Asante was encouraged by the UK film council to direct the movie herself. The encouragement came as a shock to her because she hadn’t seen many directors of her race in the same field of work. Despite its meagre budget of just over £1 million, Asante managed to depict the nuances and complexities of race, showing empathy and compassion for the hardness and bigotry of the white teenagers.
Behind the Camera
Belle (2013), her second project, couldn’t be more different. Belle tells the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a slave girl adopted by her father’s white uncle in 1772. The story is set in a very picturesque, romanticised Great Britain. The film plays like a legal, romantic drama against the narrative backdrop of the transatlantic slave trade. Asante’s skill at portraying delicate nuances shone here again – so much so that the film was a huge commercial success in spite of its minimal budget and Indie origins. Making $17 million dollars worldwide, Belle surpassing expectations by beating Marvel’s highly popular Spiderman at the box office on its opening weekend.
Since Belle, Amma Asante has since gone on to work on multiple big budget projects, including A United Kingdom (2016), which was released last year and stars David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. The film opened the BFI London Film Festival, earning Asante the title of first black female director to open the LFF.
The Times describes Asante “as one of the most exciting prospects in British cinema” and her latest project Where hands touch (2017) is set for release later this year. In all of this, her heart is to see more women, and in particular women of colour, behind the camera.
“Black stories, female stories have shown they can speak to audiences and make money… In the end, choosing to remedy it isn’t about what’s right or moral, necessarily — there are good business reasons to offer cinema audiences a choice at the box office.”
As a BAFTA award winning Writer/Director, Amma’s success proves that films telling minority stories, can generate vast income at the box office. She hopes that producers will use her success as a launchpad for telling the important stories that are currently missing on screen.
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